Unrestrained by Demons

It’s been quite a year. Can you relate? I’m not speaking of 2016 (although…my heavens, 2016 has been filled with revelations and reckoning), but rather the last 12, 13, 14 months themselves. The last…long while. So much self-reflection and quite painful investigation into the what’s and why’s of this life.

It can get heavy. Being an emotional being can at times be draining, can leave us feeling depleted and weepy. The lows can get as low as they get high. It can become incredibly daunting to process the ups and downs of life, to navigate one’s own emotional liberation, while still going out everyday and operating as a functioning member of society. That sounds dramatic, but do you ever feel as though the sheer weight of processing your own grievances feels like a full-time endeavor? One you want to just commit yourself to for a week (or five), in solitude, surrounded by healing, supportive space and silence? It’s so challenging to sort through our thoughts when we’re burdened by the need to simultaneously work, maintain relationships, construct the outward appearance of having it all together (not that we’re meant to pretend that our suffering doesn’t exist, but most days no matter how lost in our heads we want to get, we still have to be adults and live our lives). This is reality, despite the suffocating moments of fear and anxiety that visit us all, from time to time.

It can be really tempting to live a life shut off from that emotional processing. Because it’s just hard. The idea of avoiding all that mess can seem easier. Sometimes denial can look, from afar, like such a cozy alternative; not having to feel our feelings, not being blindsided and ambushed by the underbelly of what it means to be an emotional creature in this huge, undulating universe.

But I would never again choose that alternative. I’ve lived in it before; the stuffy, damp, darkly shrouded realm of denial. It’s isolated. It’s claustrophobic. It actually doesn’t feel safe at all. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know that it feels like laying in a dark room with a heavy box on your chest. Even though the box may be like Pandora’s, filled with a whole mess of stuff, it can be far more productive, albeit terrifying, to throw open the windows and start sorting through the aching feelings and thoughts that lay locked up and waiting for our attention.

This stuff – the wading through the suffering, I mean – is, as I view it, the price we pay for being alive.

I’m currently reading (slowly, savoring) my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, newest book Big Magic. Liz’s prose slay me. She is, as I say, one of those authors that “makes you feel so much more comfortable with being alive.” Because, let’s be honest, the human condition can feel really intense, lonely, daunting, and uncomfortable at times. Liz reminds us that fear (insert: trepidation, personal demons, struggles – all manifestations of fear) is always with us. She suggests that we be inclined to accept and embrace our fear. Invite it along on the journey we are taking with creativity (insert: love, joy, adventure, abundance – all manifestations of creative living). Her brilliant concept is that, on this road trip of life, we are driving, creativity gets the front seat, and fear gets the backseat. Fear is welcome to come along (because we don’t actually have any choice in the matter, do we?), and it is allowed to speak up, but it does not get to decide where we’re going. It does not get to lay its hands on the map, or even fiddle with the radio station (Liz, seriously, is my greatest inspiration as a writer – this stuff comes from the creative depths of her imagination – what a vision! – get thee to a bookstore and buy yourself Big Magic).

What a notion, right? I feel, and I’m speaking for myself here, that the overwhelming urge is to banish fear, and all its expressions, from my life. I have been standing outside the car, arms crossed, brow furrowed, tapping my toe impatiently waiting for fear to unbuckle, get out of my backseat, and let me get on with my journey.

I might as well turn my distressed gaze upward and start looking for pigs flying.

I’m not proposing, nor is my great hero Elizabeth Gilbert, that we should be super comfortable with the idea of carrying fear around in our back pockets. It’s uncomfortable; it’s supposed to be. But this is the non-negotioable byproduct of having been gifted the most exquisite opportunity of creative living (which we all have been gifted, by being born as human beings with opposable thumbs and incredible cognitive function and hearts so gloriously capable of being wrecked by love that they could just swallow up the whole world with their power for adoration).

We all have our “things” that hold us back. We all have our demons. But we are worthy of living lives unrestrained by demons. If we can, collectively, stop waiting for the demons to release us, for fear to get out of the car, and just realize this uncooperative passenger is going to endlessly serve as a beacon of where we don’t wish to go (because, at its root, fear is a mechanism of self-preservation, sounding off when danger might be present), we can see its purpose. We are high-functioning human beings with the discerning power to notice when we are being chased by a lion and fear should get to use its lung power with all its might, for good rather than evil…and when faith, love, intuition, and creativity are being drowned by the drunken, garbled hollering of our backseat fear (who somehow seems to have climbed onto the dashboard and got its sticky hands on a microphone).

We have the capacity to take a step back, look at our lives, and see where we’re being pinned (or, sometimes, glued) to a spot we no longer wish to be. We have the power to investigate why we’re immobilized. We have the capability to change that.

I have a tendency of getting stuck in a rut. I am fearful of change, and the unknown brings me great anxiety. A life of ritual and routine has brought me great comfort. My chest grows a bit tight at the image of jet-setting wanderlusts, living out of suitcases and going where the wind blows. No, no, I’ll wait patiently for my niiiiiiice, detailed itinerary please.  But that’s just me. And a huge part of this presses is in getting to know ourselves, and embracing our quirks and tendencies. Learning, through trial and error, where to push our boundaries and where to respect our needs. I went heaving and hyperventilating into a 3-month study abroad venture overseas back in 2009. I literally fought for breath and sucked on tears as I wrestled with the militant French operator and a dinky little calling card in a Parisian phone booth, begging my mom to come and visit because WHO DECIDED IT WAS OKAY TO PUT AN OCEAN BETWEEN US FOR A QUARTER OF A YEAR and I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and HOW DID I GET TO FRANCE?

By the end of my trip I was seriously devoted to finding a way (ANY way) to stay in Italy, cash in my plane ticket, and preserve the little world I had created with my friends in this foreign land where everything exotic had become familiar and reality was suspended in favor of 20 year old, wide-eyed, first-time independence.

…didn’t see that coming.

What made it so wonderful and tolerable was that, after the initial shock and severe discomfort of having no familiarity, no routine, and no way of predicting what was ahead…I reestablished all of those things that kept my needs met. I made routines. I settled into my Florentine flat, put my belongings in their new places, found a local market, carved new neural pathways in my brain, got to know my surroundings, created nourishing relationships, and set up a daily routine. All while testing my boundaries.

I did return home as planned, fortunately, but I do think back regularly and fondly on my time living Europe as an experience I’m so deeply grateful I had. It showed me I am capable of wrestling fear to the ground and making a run for it.

Letting go of control and powering through the impending horror such an act produces makes for a sweet, intoxicating exhale; like a flood of dopamine, or (on some much smaller level) the ecstatic amnesia a new mother experiences, forgetting the pain and agony of birth upon beholding their precious infant.

It is so tempting to stay on the shore where everything is safe and protected. But, the reality is that we only perceive this space to be safe and protected. It’s a deeply seductive act, for many of us, to try and preserve a sense of stability and safety by putting on our control freak panties and hyper-managing every aspect of our lives. This doesn’t make us safe. This sacrifices sanity for perceived safety. Not even real safety. Just our carefully constructed belief patter of “if I do this, and this, and this, everything will stay okay. I will be safe.” That is a very sad and disappointing way to live each day, I think.

I’m not saying we all need to turn our lives upside down, or go jump on a plane and live in Europe for 3 months in order to experience life from a place of love and creativity rather than fear (though maybe the thought makes your heart skip a beat and, actually, is just the type of experience you do need). For many of us, though, the healing medicine can be found on a much smaller scale. It can be accessed in our day-to-day lives. It might just mean doing things differently today than you did yesterday (that is often a big enough shake up for me, honestly, as a diligent creature of habit). It also doesn’t mean things have to be different every single day, because ritual and routine are beautiful and holy, just so long as they don’t come from a place of fear and seal every crack in the structure where love and creativity might try to seep in and stir things up.

Maybe it means starting a creative project or finishing a degree. Maybe it’s finding the courage to use some of that built up PTO and taking a trip. Maybe it’s climbing out of the unemployment shame and getting excited about a new career. Maybe it means going to a yoga class for the first time or revisiting a forgotten passion for hiking. Maybe it means going out to eat, or maybe it means staying in and preparing a favorite recipe. It could mean asking for help. It could be breaking a pattern of isolation and going out with friends, for an introvert. It could be a day or night of self-care and indulgent alone time at home, for an extrovert. Perhaps it’s looking at your body in the mirror and not breaking your gaze until you are able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally. Maybe it’s a commitment to a new routine, or maybe it’s the courage to break out of a rut. Maybe it’s the act of daring greatly enough to build an avenue between the two.

Whatever it is, whatever your sweet, pulsing heart knows in its very depths is an act of great courage…that is the first step in your journey. We all have demons (not a one of us is immune, no matter how “perfect” someone else’s existence and “put together” life may seem…they too struggle, I promise).

We all experience loss, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, FEAR. We are all united in this human condition, no matter what ways our fear and creativity display themselves. We may look different, but we are not. We are all the same. We are all paddling our little boats furiously towards freedom and love. But perhaps, in a joint effort of all the eyes reading this, we together can start to see our fear as something new. Rather than a block of darkness, threatening to sink our boat, we can view our fear as something useful. As a necessary component on our journey, an irreplaceable cog in our wheel of healing. A threatening shadow of heaviness to keep the brilliant light from blinding our eyes; a little hunk of pressure providing just enough weight to slow our speed, so that we don’t race feverishly past all the opportunities to pause, and be shattered by the staggering beauty of how very far we’ve already come.

 

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A Taste of the Light

This morning as I sat in prayer after my yoga practice ended, I was overcome with the presence of God. I could feel the light pouring into the moment. My breath just a whisper, that sacred, quiet calm…almost shallow sensation it takes on after savasana. Eyes softly closed and palms hovering together at my heart. Everything felt still. Everything felt illuminated. Like God was standing before me, His hands on my cheeks, Her face bowed towards me.

As though the top of my head, my crown chakra, were opened and Divinity were trickling in with some much needed medicine, some soulful poetry. I sat there frozen, but soft, mesmerized by the blinding light of my own inner eyelids.

What did God have to say to me this morning, you ask?

It was a message of self-love. Gratitude. Higher thinking. Isn’t it always? It was delivered sweetly, like a kiss on the cheek, and I felt an invitation to let it linger, or let it pass. I clung to the former like a child to a rope swing; soft, supple thigh skin wound tightly around thick, bristly cord. As if catching a thread about to unravel, I held firm to the words materializing as if written by invisible hand.

Choosing to allow self-criticism and perceived scarcity to permeate our thoughts every day, is quite literally poisoning our own well. Indulging in petty comparison, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy – in other words living caged by fear – is a DISGRACE to the beautiful life we have been given. To think harmful thoughts towards our bodies is to shame the incredible blessing of a strong, able, functioning physical vessel. To compare our lives to others’ is to dishonor the exquisite existence we ourselves have built. To engage in habitual behaviors and thoughts of inadequacy is to discredit the many years of SURVIVAL we have under our belts. 
We have been SO blessed. Lungs that can breathe, legs that can walk, eyes that can see, ears that can hear (and perhaps not even that much, for many of us). May we ALL choose a story of gratitude and abundance. May we decide, intentionally, to shift the internal conversation when the voices of our demons begin to murmur. May we instead drench that darkness with our light, the light of God, the sheer illuminating capacity in the act of giving thanks. May we realize how ungrateful an act it is to engage in these thoughts, and kindly forgive ourselves for the transgression.

It sounds so easy, but it’s not. It feels as if you could just flip a switch and live in abundant gratitude from here forward, when you have a taste of the light, but nothing is ever so simple. Night will come, and darkness will creep back upon us. We’re human, and our minds are powerful tools. But practice makes “more practiced.” Too often we live unconsciously, slaves to our own habits and vices. Chained to our stories of inadequacy.

I can feel God cringing each time I frown at my reflection or fail to see how much I have. I can imagine how regretful I would be, later in life, if I did not commit NOW to the practice of carefully directing my attention and energy towards things that actually MATTER. We don’t even know how long we have here. My prayer for us all is that we learn to master our own thoughts, or at least to work more cooperatively with them, opening up space for joy and love and GRATITUDE like we’ve never known before. That is my prayer for each one of us, this day and every day. Let the light in.

Amen. Namaste.

Conditions of The Healing Process

“The only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of creativity.”
-Brené Brown.

I don’t know about you, but I love me a good podcast. Two of my favorites, Magic Lessons by Liz Gilbert and Dear Sugar Radio by Cheryl Strayed, have both, coincidentally (or not so?) featured the great Brené Brown. Yes, the author of Daring Greatly and, more recently, Rising Strong. That Brené Brown.

Apart from the epic quote that floats above, another incredible notion that Miss Brown has plummeted out into the ethers – and, subsequently, into the brain of yours truly – is that no creative work, no piece of writing in particular, on which our own personal healing is requisite should be shared. So, she’s saying if we’ve written something – or created something, period – on which our own heart’s wellbeing and mending and healing and transformation is hinged…it is not ready to be shared with the world.

This was a touch cringe-worthy for me to hear. Though it rang true, like, cathedral bells true. I, for one, have been seriously guilty of sharing material on which my deep and personal healing process rested, with its full weight. A fragile and, when you think about it, flimsy support system on which to place such a profound experience, no?

The opinion (read: APPROVAL) of others. Of strangers! The horror. It makes me think of Jenga…that game with the wooden blocks where you build and stack and carefully place, and the higher the tower gets, the more wobbly it becomes. Until it all comes crashing down.

That’s the mental image conjured up when I think of sending a raw, fresh, vulnerable piece of my own heart (which is, ultimately, what our art really is) into the cruel world to be either devoured lovingly or torn to shreds. Noooooooooo, thank you. That’s one I’ve learned through the School of Hard Knocks, if you will. I’ve done that, from the very get go, and I’ve been showered with the ego-stroking praise, and I thought wow, neat, I’m going to keep wearing my heart on my sleeve and using my writing as a place to work out the kinks of my own inner psyche and come to blows with my inner demons! 

That was so early-twenties of me.

It worked, it did, for a minute. But when the internet trolls and the blessed hearts who just see the world a different way caught wind of my bloody raw creations, that’s when I buckled. Now, let me elaborate on Brené’s brilliant concept; it’s not to say one should never share this raw, vulnerable, just-born work. No, not at all. Quite the contrary. What she stipulated was that we, as artists and creators, are advised to be thoroughly “worked through” of whatever story we are sharing. To be selective with the stories we tell is an art form in and of itself.

Working through the mess, down in the trenches, through therapy, conversation, soul-searching, and good ‘ol time passed, is the only way we can really heal our wounds and learn from them. Then, and only then, can we share the vulnerability, that is our own process of transmutation on this earth, from a place of neutrality.

Neutrality. What a concept! “Nothing to defend,” as Liz Gilbert, the podcast host, pointed out as Brené painted the finishing touches on her idea. When are healed of a particular ache, when we have come to a place where we can stand outside of it rather than sinking into its depths, we are in a place of power to remain [more] neutral to its reception. 

Because, if we’ve worked through our shit, if we’ve taken it to God, the yoga mat, our therapist, our friends over bottomless mugs of coffee, the pavement, our journals, what-have you…we move through our vulnerability into a place of reserved awareness. There is a roundness to that particular story, a softness, buffed smooth by time and, more often than not, obsession. We are no longer in the jagged, sharp-edged, uneven space of pain or suffering. That ship has sailed, and safely docked at port. We have already been our own greatest critic…and we came through to the other side. So what could anyone else’s rejection possibly do but slide indifferently off the glossy surface?

Now, I must add, I am a real believer in our own fragile humanity. I don’t think stories are ever, for the most part, “over.” I think what we struggle with will come up again and again in our lives, even disgusted as different experiences altogether, but for having learned how to dance with our demons, we are able to cope and persevere and emerge from the dark tunnel relatively unscathed. More and more so with each journey underground. It is more and more brilliantly sunny with each emergence.

That said, I don’t believe our healing has to be “stick a fork in me done” for us to be able to share it creatively. We know, intuitively, in our own hearts and bodies when we have reached a place of strength within a certain vein of our lives. When the blood flow is smooth and unblocked, when the air is circulating freely; when we are no longer suffocated and pummeled by the sheer freshness of it all. As I said before, sometimes time is the greatest healer for our stories. Sometimes much more work is required. Sometimes creating around that struggle is the only therapy that works. And it’s therapy that should always be practiced. It’s so incredibly healing. It’s just that it doesn’t necessarily need to be shared…right that moment.

What a positively fascinating notion. The idea of creating just for the sake of creating. The idea of pouring blood, sweat, and tears into the creation of something so beautiful, that you keep it just for yourself. That it is not something for public domain. I know I am a breed of creator who is hungry to share with the world. Yes, I keep a personal journal, and those entries are sacred. I would never dream of scanning them onto this blog, or any other public forum, in a million years. But do I often end up writing about the same stories that have graced their confidential pages? YES, of course. I just am learning, as I grow more familiar with this earthside existence, that timing is everything.

There is a time, and a place, to share our boldest creations. There is a very specific time in which to share the stories that have tugged at our hearts and minds. When we are ready to invite the unsolicited approval and rejection of outsiders, able to remain rooted in the truth and sacred origin of our expression, we are ready to share our most vulnerable stories.

But what does this mean for the eager creator? The innocent, and perhaps naive, invincible artist? Share. Create. Keep to yourself. Listen to your own heart. But know, as someone who was once naive and overeager to work out my own healing in public print, there is a potent and almost Holy nature to withholding. Because, in doing so, we are forcing our own hands. The stories we want so desperately to share, because it serves our work and our readers and our own integrity, must be shared only when we have done the harder work…journeying through the healing process. When we make that a stipulation to our sharing, to our expression, the resentment and fear that coexist with noble creativity melt away. Or are at the very least muted. And when we emerge from the tunnel, when we rise back up above ground, we can share our creations proudly. Confidently. And in the glimmering light of day.

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